When the name of a football club is mentioned, more often than not it will evoke a memory. For instance, if you said the word ‘Stevenage’ to me, I would think of a pissed Bury fan dressed up as an ewok jumping out of a bush and scaring a small child. Try the same with the word ‘Southend’ and the first image that pops into my head is that mascot that is meant to be a shrimp but looks peculiarly like a sex toy. For Halifax, it’s a lot simpler and more romantic.
Like many others, I was first introduced to the sheer size of the English Football League through the wall chart that used to come with Match Magazine at the beginning of every season. Each club was represented by a small cardboard shirt and I used to rush up to my room every weekend, putting all the teams in order. This process often took a while as I hadn’t quite mastered how to freeze teletext and the tables used to spin around quite quickly. My poster which was the centrepiece of my bedroom proved an attraction for visitors to our house, and you could guarantee it would be fiddled with behind my back. Back then, Manchester City could only dream of being in the positions my dad used to put them in; sometimes they even got promoted overnight.
One team I remember being intrigued with was Halifax. Whether this was because Howard Brown was in his prime starring in Halifax Bank adverts on the television, or because I had recently visited children’s museum Eureka I will never know. Halifax Town (as the football club was then known) were one of the teams featured on the wall chart. Of course, the town is no longer represented on Football League posters but the ground was still on my hit list and a free Saturday allowed me to tick off the Shay.
I had been at the NWCFL Champions Trophy match between Colne and Atherton Collieries the previous evening. We had beaten the league champions 5-1 in the League Cup final at Fleetwood at the end of last season, and on this occasion it was the reds who came out on top. It was also the debut for our brand new supporters band, Cleggys Midnight Runners; I was on the ukulele. Chants of “You’re just a shit George Formby!” reigned down upon me from the Colne fans and I blame this for the amount of drink I eventually supped by the time I got back to bed at 02:30 in the morning.
Of course, I was hungover when I woke up on the Saturday morning at 08:30. There was a rough plan in place between myself, Rob and Lee for our trip to Halifax even though none of us were particularly up for travelling over to West Yorkshire. I scrambled through the kitchen draws looking for any form of medication that would see me through the morning. Rob had already set off from Sheffield meaning I couldn’t bail on him now, while Lee was still fast asleep after a long night out in Leeds.
The 09:14 train from Atherton to Manchester was only a minute late meaning I got to Manchester in decent time. From there, I had just a few minutes to wait for the train to Halifax. As usual, a gaggle of hikers were spread out throughout the carriage en route to the delightful villages of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. Nobody got off in Rochdale, it was too early for any of that nonsense.
My music of choice for the day was Jack Garratt’s debut album. I had seen the ginger hipster perform at the Albert Hall in Manchester a few months ago and even managed to get a photo with him when I had stumbled out of BrewDog post gig. His work continues to grow on me every week and it’s surely only a matter of time before he gains more success. Along with Jack Garratt, I also delved in and out of the two latest Two Door Cinema Club releases. The newest addition to my favourite bands repertoire was Bad Decisions, which had been released the evening before. It seemed quite an apt song as I really was struggling as we approached the town of Halifax.
The view out of the window presented a mismatch of social housing and mills. It was very much in keeping with this area of the country. Looking out from the platform the Nestle factory boasts that Quality Street have been ‘proudly made in Halifax since 1936’ while the building next door also displays the logo of After Eight mints. Of course, this factory has nothing on the one that stands a few hundred yards from my second year house in York, where every morning I was awoken by the smell of chocolate.
Waiting for Rob on the platform, I dodged and weaved in between a number of women who looked like they could work in a chocolate factory. Caped from head to toe in some sort of tangerine glow, they looked truly ridiculous but would probably fit in well in Blackpool, their destination. Just when I thought I had seen it all, a woman clambered down the steps in some sort of bedwear. It was like a scene from Bananas in Pyjamas.
It was now 10:30 and as always we had absolutely nothing planned. We headed up the gradual slope into the town centre. I had low expectations for Halifax, but I was genuinely surprised at how nice the town centre was. It was very busy given how early it was and there were more than enough pubs to keep the locals happy. Rob was feeling all continental and wanted some foreign pastries for his breakfast, so we found a supermarket where he was able to choose from a range of croissants. I wanted to bring him back down a peg or two and upon leaving Tesco, I dragged him over the road to Halifax Borough Market.
Each town has it’s own delicacies. For instance, if I go to Leigh Market I will always try and buy a lobby from the pie shop in the far corner. Bury has it’s famous black puddings and Bolton has an obsession with tripe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything that Halifax boasted about. The Market Hall itself though was fantastic (as far as markets go) and was full to the brim with the local nutters. In the centre of the hall we found a small cafe which was doing a brisk trade with the local pensioners. Seemingly, the majority of them were all eating soup, presumably they were all on liquid diets.
Rob and I took a table in the corner which was decorated with a number of postcards from around Yorkshire. Bolton Abbey and York Minster were prominent sites and it reminded me that I only had a month of my summer left before I headed back to the city for my final year of University. The woman who was busy serving Halifax’s ageing population came over and took our orders; a Yorkshire Tea each, what else?
We sat watching the world go by. There was a moment of confusion when Rob inspected the neighbouring fruit and vegetable stall, asking me what a ‘Gallapple’ was. I was flummoxed too. I had never heard of such a fruit. Perhaps this was the local delicacy I was looking for? My excitement was short lived when I read the sign properly for my friend and informed him that they were in fact selling Gala Apples.
As we finished our cups of tea, Lee had woken up in Leeds and informed me he would be on his way as soon as he could find his trousers. I didn’t ask any further questions. Rob and I headed into the town centre, hoping to stumble across one of the towns two Wetherspoons. The streets were like Paris, as locals made the most of the warm weather, sitting on tables outside Greggs enjoying a pasty or two along with a coffee. There were even a few people sat outside The Barum Top when we came across it.
It was quite a big Wetherspoons and we decided to sit upstairs while we had some breakfast. I had maintained all morning that I wasn’t going to be drinking in Halifax, but that lasted only a couple of hours as I bought a Punk IPA to act as hair of the dog. Admittedly, it didn’t go down easily and we spent around an hour in there before moving on to the town’s second helping of the pub chain, The Percy Shaw. Quite possibly the nicest Wetherspoons I’ve been in, it was found next to a Pizza Express at the far end of the town in a brand new development along with a cinema. Percy Shaw was an inventor from Halifax, credited with designing and creating cats eyes that are used throughout the world on roads.
Lee had now arrived in the town and we could see him walking past the bus station that was below us. He was sporting his Atherton Collieries shirt which was a beautiful sight. I would have worn mine, but mine was in the wash following my gallivanting the previous evening. Instead, I had in my possession my 2011 Halifax shirt, sponsored by the associates of everybody’s favourite non-league competition, Doodson. This was the season that the Shaymen gained promotion from the Northern Premier League rather convincingly. Brad, my mate who supports Halifax was offloading a few of his shirts a couple of years ago so I added this shirt to my collection for around £10 but had never found a purpose for it until this match. We had seen Halifax beat Grimsby at Wembley just a couple of months ago in The FA Trophy Final, but as we had a Harry The Haddock in our party we decided to go in the Mariners end; the Halifax shirt remained at home.
There were a handful of others walking around the town centre in Halifax shirts, which was nice to see. The Doodson sponsorship was now long gone and the club are currently sporting the ‘Northern Powerhouse Developments’ logo on their kits. In my opinion, they might as well have just had Narnia or Hogwarts on the shirts as they are just as real as the Northern Powerhouse. That is as far as George Osborne and his project have got; a sponsor on a Conference North sides football shirts.
We still had around an hour and a half until kick off, and despite being surrounded by pubs we opted to head down to the ground. I guessed that Halifax would have a bar of some sort in their ground and I was right. The main side of the Shay is very modern, having been completed in 2010. The old Family Stand that stood on this side of the ground beforehand had been demolished in 2000 and work went ahead to replace it. Unfortunately, when Halifax Town were relegated in 2002, work completely stopped and it remained in this state until 2008 when the local council agreed to fund it’s completion.
The North Stand, which is a large terrace behind the near goal was opened in 1998 allowing Halifax to return to the Football League when the won the Conference. The South Stand was opened within a year of this making it what is now a very impressive non-league venue. It’s quite overwhelming thinking that Curzon Ashton and Salford City will be playing here this coming season. Even more overwhelming is the thought that back in 2012, Atherton Collieries came mightily close to playing here in the FA Cup but unfortunately we lost 2-1 at Abbey Hey, going out of the competition with nothing more than a whimper.
This match was only a friendly against League Two outfit Accrington Stanley. Really, as a Lancastrian I should have been in the away end but we fancied a nice chilled out afternoon in the home end. It was very quiet in the supporters bar before the match, where just a handful of Halifax fans were supping on pints of locally brewed pale ale. It would have been rude not to join them, so with a pint of Withens in my hand we sat down in the corner beneath the television. We were mithered to participate in the half time draw before we made our way to the only turnstiles that were in operation for the home end.
It was just £6 for me to get in as a student and a further £2 for the programme which covered both the Accrington match and the one against Morecambe the week before. This was bought from a bloke who was perched behind a small podium beside a row of benches which were lined up along the concourse. I don’t think I’d ever seen wooden beer garden benches inside a football ground before (maybe at FC United) but they seemed to work quite well. In fact, the whole concourse was nice, open and clean.
Everybody within the stadium either seemed to have a limp or some sort of speech impediment. When I say impediment, I mean they tended to talk more with their chins than with their mouths. I’ll be completely honest and say I found people watching more entertaining than watching the football. My favourite character inside the ground was the Fire Steward, who reminded me very much of Keith Lard from Phoenix Nights. The first half flew by as I regurgitated all of the lines from his particular scenes in the comedy.
Fire kills in minutes, smoke kills in seconds.
As he ran around performing fake fire drill exercises in front of a capacity crowd of 700, the two teams emerged on to the pitch. The Halifax manager was in his suit, thinking he was managing in the Premier League while Accrington hero John Coleman looked more laid back in his jumper which he had clearly bought from Primark. It has to be said here, Accrington’s striped red and white kit looked truly woeful.
Despite being two divisions below the visitors in the pyramid, Halifax had the better of the play during the match and probably should have won. However, it was Accrington who applied the early pressure with Sean McConville creating a chance in the opening moments. He set up Terry Gornell who fired wide of the post.
Man of the match for me was Halifax winger Josh MacDonald who caused Stanley problems all afternoon down the right hand side. The former Middlesbrough youngster won his side a penalty midway through the first half after he cut in from the wing. Jordan Burrow stepped up and Aaron Chapman went low to his right to keep the spot kick out. Rob predicted that he would miss, so he was happy. I wasn’t though as I had a feeling this would go on to be on my third 0-0 in as many years.
Tom Denton, Halifax’s summer addition from North Ferriby United, was a handful throughout the game. The 6’7 striker barged the Accrington defenders and goalkeeper at every possible opportunity and I loved it. I could only imagine what he’d have been like playing for Mossley back in 2012.
The second half saw chances come and go for both sides, much like the first. This was a game where both defences came out on top. Probably the most entertaining moment of the match came towards the end of the half when Halifax centre half Daniel Hone and Accrington striker Terry Gornell were both sent off by the referee for an altercation which resulted in both sets of players pushing each other. Rather than showing them red cards, the official decided that the two should leave the field and be replaced. This was the third forced substitution I had seen this pre-season, and the fourth red card in two days.
A Halifax fan wasn’t taking too kindly to the physical nature of the match. He decided to march down to the bottom of the stand and shout ‘You’re shit!’ at two of the Accrington substitutions who were warming up. They burst out laughing, completely bemused by the neanderthal that had just shouted at them. The two were still giggling when they came to warm up in front of us, and gave us a look as if to suggest they were a bit embarrassed by the whole situation.
On came the bobble haired Nathan Webb who had been on loan at NWCFL side Nelson last campaign. He impressed when he played against Atherton Collieries, so it was nice to see him given his opportunity on a bigger stage. Despite looking absolutely nothing like a footballer, I’m convinced his unconventional appearance may soon be a regular sight in the Football League.
We were now growing bored and regularly checked Twitter to see how long was left. Tired, hungover and hungry the final whistle was a welcome sound. Leaving the ground, our friend the Fire Steward was running around alongside his mate who obviously thought he was guarding Downing Street from militants judging by the amount of headsets and gear he had on. I find it quite embarrassing and disappointing when clubs who were relatively big a good few years ago carry that attitude on. Again, let me remind you… this is a ground that will be hosting Curzon Ashton competitively this campaign… and I mean that with no disrespect to my friends at Curzon!
Overall, I really enjoyed the day out in Halifax. The town was a lot bigger and better than I imagined it would be and had a plethora of decent looking pubs… it’s just a shame I wasn’t in the mood to visit any of them. For the ground itself, again, that was far bigger and better than I imagined it would be… and it even had the added bonus of having loads of trees and bushes in the far corner to make it still a little bit tinpot and romantic. No doubt I will be back at The Shay sometime, making the most of everything the town has to offer.